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Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Hope On SS

During the autumn of 1883, the captain and crew of the US whaling ship Hope On  sighted a creature that they took to be a small whale on two consecutive days. This happened when the ship was whaling off of the Las Perlas Archipelago on the Pacific side of the Isthmus of Panama. The creature was said to have a horselike head with two unicorn-like horns on top of it, a dark brown hide speckled with black dots, four legs or double-jointed fins and a tail that seemed to be divided into two large fins.Other ships of the same company stated their men had seen this creature before on other occasions, but none so close as the crew of the Hope On.
(Presumably they thought they had encountered the legendary Campchurch.) This report comes from Proctor's compilation of early Sea Serpent reportsand was reprinted by Heuvelmans. Coleman and Huyghe print a version with certain additional details given, and I do not know the reason for these differences in the report.
Campchurch, the sea-unicorn

This report came up in a discussion about sea serpent reports with Jay Cooney and others, and I remarked that critics said this was an elephant seal. It was in an area where Californian elephant seals occasionally stray and it is in the right size range. Against that we have those horns on the head and the traditional classification as the report as a Long necked Sea serpent (Following Heuvelmans), implying that it had a long neck. And then I added my own inderpendant information : In that part of the world (Panama) the name "Water Horse" is used to mean a creature that is probably based on the elephant seal.

But in thinking back on it, the creature wasn't a Longneck, a long neck was never described. In fact one of the extra details that Coleman and Huyghe included (not in Heuvelmans) was that the second one that was seen was smaller and had a shorter neck. And in other cases where a Campchurch sighting is alleged, an elephanyt seal is supected to be the cause (a case off of South Africa is a good example)

In that it now transpires that the only detail that makes this not a sighting of a strayed elephant seal is the matter of the alleged twin unicorn horns. And that can have been a mistake for any number of reasons, among which is that the elephant's snout on an elephant seal has been claimed to be associated with  horns or tusks on several other occasions in the literature. And even in the cases where Roy Mackal suspects the water monster was based on an elephant seal, a sort of horn on the snout is one of the characteristics that is repeatedly alleged. So this is one of those occasions where it is not even necessaery to say why a certain mistaken impression seems to have been made because the same mistake is repeatedly alleged someplace else in the literature.

Sources: Bernard Heuvelmans, In The Wake of The Sea Serpents
James Sweeny, A Pictoral History of Sea Monsters and Other Dangerous Marine Life
Loren Coleman, Patrick Huyghe and Harry Trumbore,Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents, and Other Mystery Denizensof the Deep
Roy MackalSearching for Hidden Animals

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